The Historic and Design Review Commission signaled its approval Wednesday for a planned 10-story boutique hotel and restaurant to be built in the La Villita Historic District.

In addition to constructing a new hotel, the investment group of Indiana-based hotel development firm White Lodging plans to rehabilitate the German-English School, building a connector between the old and new structures. 

The commission gave conceptual approval in December 2019 to the project, described then as a nine-story hotel, despite historic preservationists’ concerns. 

A representative of the Conservation Society of San Antonio said at the time that the organization felt the ​​structure’s size and scale would be inappropriate for La Villita.

Kathy Krnavek, the Conservation Society board’s first vice president, repeated those concerns on Wednesday.

“The Conservation Society of San Antonio continues to disagree with the assertion that the massing of the new structure is appropriate for the block,” Krnavek said. “The high-rise section is significantly taller than all existing buildings, including the hotel on the south side of Arciniega [Street].

“Secondly, we recommend prioritizing the pedestrian experience for this section of the historic district, including maintenance of a strong pedestrian connection to the courtyard of the German-English school and reducing the automobile focus at the hotel entrance.”

The hotel site is a 1-acre parcel located at 423 S. Alamo St., currently used as a surface parking lot. 

It is situated between the seven-story Marriott Plaza San Antonio hotel and the historic German-English School and directly across the street from Yanaguana Garden in Hemisfair.

“This area is uniquely situated and bridges the rich history and revitalization of this area of San Antonio,” said Mike Banas, a White Lodging spokesman, in an email. “Guests are close to everything and can discover some of San Antonio’s authentic treasures off the River Walk, including the Southtown Arts District, Hemisfair Park, the King Williams District and the La Villita Historic Arts Village.”

The luxury hotel will feature a rooftop pool and bar overlooking the city and a street-level steakhouse incorporating the existing historic buildings on site, Banas added. A filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration states the estimated cost of the project is $95 million. 

The applicant’s request for a certificate of appropriateness during the panel’s most recent meeting details scopes of work that include the modern 347-guestroom hotel and street-level structures connecting it to the historic school house. 

The German-English School was established by German immigrants to San Antonio in 1858, and the structures at La Villita were built between 1859 and 1869, according to the Texas State Historical Commission. 

The San Antonio school district brought the property in 1903, renamed it for George W. Brackenridge and used the buildings until 1926 when the San Antonio Junior College took ownership. 

The proposed hotel is planned to be constructed alongside the historic German school along South Alamo Street.
The proposed hotel is planned to be constructed alongside the historic German school along South Alamo Street. Credit: Courtesy / Sauto Hotel

The developers’ application describes work to repair windows in the school buildings, create new door openings, replace an existing staircase and doors and improve the school’s courtyard, adding an awning and new landscaping. The application also requests approval for signage throughout the property.

The city’s Office of Historic Preservation staff recommended approval of all items with some stipulations requiring the developer to use like materials when replacing historic windows and doors and reuse discarded materials on site. All modifications must be done without damaging historic structures. 

The city also requires the builder to submit landscaping and construction details for the hotel before starting and an archaeological investigation must also be completed in compliance with rules regarding commercial development within historic sites like La Villita. 

The school is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and the hotel site is near the reported second location of Mission San Antonio de Valero, according to the staff’s report. 

Banas said construction will likely start before the end of the year.

Construction to upgrade Maverick Plaza in La Villita with new utilities, landscaping and lighting has been ongoing since last August with the goal to transform the plaza into a culinary and cultural destination.

In January, White Lodging announced it planned to turn the 251-room Marriott Plaza San Antonio hotel, located just south of La Villita on South Alamo Street, into The Otis Hotel San Antonio, Autograph Collection, an independent Marriott brand. 

Restarting a project that was initially made public in March 2020 but then paused as the pandemic began, the developer plans to upgrade guest rooms in the 40-year-old hotel along with balconies, the pool area, lobby and meeting rooms. 

Expected to be completed in 2023, the renovation also calls for turning historic buildings on the property into a new day spa and bungalow suites. 

White Lodging also developed and manages the Canopy by Hilton Hotel at 123 N. St. Mary’s St. and more than 12 hotel properties in Austin. 

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...